A Tactical Recap to the Fermented Ph.D. Dump
The week has ended and a new one has sprung up, opened up, ready to be used. I am almost done planning my module and setting up the exam papers. This requires a rehash and reiteration of the work almost ad infinitum. At least it feels like I am doing the work over and over again. Whilst setting up the papers, I am also writing out the memo, so it is basically a reiteration, and now I am writing a post about it as well! Reiteration of the reiteration.
In any case, I feel like the students had a breakthrough this week, and it needs to be mentioned that I think this is some very important work. From the get go, it might be good to lay down a very important quote I use:
we are led to the claim that the disenchantment of students from working-class backgrounds with the discipline of philosophy, and the consequent downstream paucity of black academics, is the result of a philosophic practice, discourse and research agenda, and consequently university curriculum that is flagrantly not derived from, nor related to the existential realities of its place, time and audience,” (Lamola, 2016:507)
In this quote, the author begins by describing a situation in which students (people) of colour in apartheid South African could not pass philosophy exams on Plato (etc.) because, amongst other reasons, the work was not relevant to their lives and day to day situation. Recently, another scholar rather scathingly critiqued this situation and tells us that the question back then was on how to teach Plato (and Greek philosophy) in South Africa; but today, the question is rather whether we should teach it at all in a South African post-apartheid/post-colonial context. And this guides us to the above quote: our philosophy curricula needs to be relevant to the context in which we teach that course. This is a very important but complex statement that cannot be easily denied or accepted. It is based on two fundamental ideas which I call (i) applying decontextualised philosophy and (ii) the struggle for recognition.
Applying Decontextualised Philosophy
The idea of decontextualised philosophy is rather simple. Decontextualising philosophy is by (i) taking it out of the original context (think: Greek philosophy today in South Africa) and (ii) applying it as if universally applicable (think: using Socratic method of practicing philosophy to solve problems in South Africa today). The problem of philosophy being irrelevant to the student (person) of colour in post-apartheid/colonial South African becomes apparent. She cannot relate to philosophers writing from a different context in a different time. This statement is not aimed at reason or intellectual capabilities; arguments that was often made until even recently. It is aimed at the relevance that text or philosophy has to her and her lifeworld. Various authors, again writing very scathingly, state that Plato (etc.) is not relevant to the South African student; she needs a contextually relevant curricula that can affect her lifeworld positively.
This then relies on there being philosophy that is relevant to that lifeworld. And this is where the first major stumbling block hits us: what is relevant to the South African post-apartheid/colonial context? This being a relatively recent question, there are not many solutions. We are still struggling to “create our own”, so to speak. Recently, the notion of South African philosophy has gotten some traction. But the main problem is this: there is not enough recognition taking place and therefore a contextual curricula is still pending. We are merely applying decontextualise philosophy over and over again.
The Struggle for Recognition
There are two points to the term recognition I want to highlight, namely, (i) being recognised as a philosopher proper and (ii) recognising oneself in the other (or recognising being).
Because of the current westernised educational system, anything vastly different will not be recognised fully. Many authors write for example how difficult it is for (South) African authors to get their work published in peer reviewed articles because they come the global south. Meaning that those from the global south is not recognised. Zondi (2021:235-236) in a recent publication writes for example that (South) Africa almost exclusively imports education and exports almost nothing. In other words, (South) African education is aimed at producing westernised subjects because we somehow hold the notion that our own is not good enough. South African philosophers are thus not being recognised as capable of creating their own.
But this leads to the second problem which is that philosophers in training are not recognising their own teaching them. Because the system is geared towards creating itself, that is, western subjects with western education models/curricula, South African future philosophers will not see themselves, thus not knowing they can create their own. For example, the first female person of colour to get her Ph.D. in philosophy in South Africa only happened in 2018. Here she states this problem rather simple: she never saw female persons of colour philosophers at her university, so young females rarely think that they can become philosophers proper..
Postscriptum, or Seeing Oneself as a Whole
The double problem of recognition can simply be summed up as follows: if one’s own is not recognised, one will not recognise oneself in those who stand in front and teach. The fact that decontextualised philosophies are also applied, the problem is compounded. Consequently, knowledge and philosophies that emerge from the lifeworld of people are marginalised in order to study work from previous eras in a guise of value neutrality, as if applicable to and understood by all. The system just loved to produce itself over and over again. Preference is given to sameness in contrast to different. And this is really sad because unique perspectives are not heard, they are not produced, neither are they shared. The problem can be stopped by merely making space for difference. But difference and the status quo does not gel together.
In any case, I hope that you learned something from this post! The writing is my own, unless hyperlinked and/or stated otherwise. The photographs are also my own, taken with my Nikon D300 and Tamron zoom lens. Happy learning, be well!